Julianna Barwick & Ikue Mori
White Columns Gallery
Thursday, July 14
Better than: Spending twelve hours in a tiny car driving to Chicago to watch Julianna Barwick play this weekend at Pitchfork Festival. (Oh wait…)
The not-for-profit White Columns Gallery describes itself as “New York’s oldest alternative art space”; founded in 1970 as “an experimental platform for artists,” it hosted Thurston Moore’s influential Noise Fest when it was located on Spring Street. Now it’s tucked away in a corner of Manhattan that’s hard for some to navigate, thanks to West Fourth sprawling in multiple directions and the street names switching from numbers to appellations like “Jane” and “Horatio.” But it’s an area rich with exquisite, hidden gems.
Last night’s bill at White Columns, a performance by contemporary experimental songstress Julianna Barwick and out-music innovator Ikue Mori, the ex-drummer for legendary ’70s No Wave group DNA, certainly qualified. Only a very specific type of minimalism aficionado would overlook last night’s array of free shows—which included gigs by Patti Smith, tUnE-yArDs, Superchunk, and Joan Jett—for this gig, but approximately 20 people, mostly flannel-clad 20somethings and arty types donning Birkenstocks, did. (That includes the dude selling $2 PBRs and distributing free cups of sparkling water, the girl selling records, label folks, and the musicians themselves.) As Barwick and Mori recreated the spirit of their recent collaborative (and challenging) LP Frkwys Vol. 6 (RVNG Intl.), which they recorded in a tiny back room at the gallery last fall, the space’s high ceilings, bright white walls, and overall minimalism contributed to the sublime feeling of openness that guided the 25-minute, improvised set.
Much of the crowd sat on a swarm of tiny white benches placed a few feet from Barwick and Mori; Barwick held her mic and gazed down at a small board of knobs as her long brown hair covered her face, while Mori peered into her MacBook and triggered sounds. Throughout the performance Barwick and Mori reached no real sonic climax, instead creating a rich, atmospheric landscape that, while not as dense as Barwick’s solo work, was a pleasantly meditative and mind-bending palette of dripping, ambient sound. Barwick’s voice-manipulation is central to her more pop-oriented solo work, but here it worked as just a texture in the mix of fluttering, cinematic electronic glitches and glittering chirps; the sounds occasionally recalled droning television noise, a resemblance that was accented by the paintings of fuzzy TV sets hanging on a wall.
The set was most compelling when Barwick’s voice was emphasized, but it was fascinating to see her perform in a way that seemed very closely tied to the principles of minimalism that inform her more focused solo material. Perhaps most appropriate was the canvas behind Barwick and Mori—a quote from Beckett’s Molloy that read, “It was on the basis of this interpretation, whether right or wrong, that I finally reached a solution, inelegant assuredly, but sound, sound. Now I am willing to believe, indeed I firmly believe, that other solutions to this problem might have been found and indeed still be found, no less sound…”
Critical bias: I spent last Friday drooling over old press releases and news clippings at The Kitchen’s current Soho Years retrospective.
Overheard: “I like a guy who’ll laugh at a Warhol joke.”
Random notebook dump: Three people “liked” my Foursquare check-in.
It was a 25-minute improvised set. Listen here: